Writing Course Objectives

With broad course goals (outcomes) as a starting point, the next step is the development of objectives that are performance based and measureable. Objectives should focus on what the student needs to do and know, not on what content will be covered. Again, the student-centered approach to teaching is evident in this approach to course design.

Diamond refers to three basic elements of an objective:

  • A verb that describes an observable action
  • A description of the conditions under which the action takes place
  • The acceptable performance level
    • States, where applicable, the standard for acceptable performance

An example of an objective as describe by Diamond would be:

Assess the need for dental radiographs of a new patient that presents to the dental clinic that follow the standards set by the American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology, American Dental Education Association and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In the objective above, “assess” serves as a verb that describes an observable action, “dental clinic” describing the conditions under which the action takes place and the standards of the American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology, American Dental Education Association and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services providing an acceptable performance level.

A strategy for categorizing outcomes and, thereby, providing structure to objective writing is the use of a cognitive taxonomy and one of the best recognized cognitive taxonomies is that of Bloom’s. In this taxonomy, Bloom attempts to organize learning into levels according to the sophistication of mental effort necessary to meet a given goal. During the 1990s, a group of cognitive psychologists, curriculum theorists, instructional researchers and testing and assessment specialists convened to discuss the revision of Bloom’s original taxonomy. The result of their efforts was published in 2001).1 Both the original and the revised taxonomies are shown in Figure 2. Differences to note are the change from nouns to verbs (e.g., Application to Applying) associated with each level. The categories knowledge, comprehension and synthesis from the old version were renamed as remembering, understanding and creating, respectively. And finally, the top two levels were switched, placing what was synthesis in the old version and renamed to creating in the new version, at the top of the pyramid. A list of action verbs can be found in Table 5. While it is not within the scope of this learning module to fully describe the process of revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy, there are many excellent resources on the internet to assist the reader in more fully understanding this revision and subsequent development.

Figure 2. Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning.
Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning - Old Version
Old Version
Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning - New Version
New Version
Table 5. Action Verbs for Writing Objectives.
The Cognitive Processes Dimension
Lower order thinking skills ↔ Higher order thinking skills
RememberUnderstandApplyAnalyzeEvaluateCreate
Recognizing
• identifying

Recalling
• retrieving
• list
Interpreting
• clarifying
• paraphrasing
• representing
• translating

Exemplifying
• illustrating
• instantiating

Classifying
• categorizing
• subsuming

Summarizing
• abstracting
• generalizing

Inferring
• concluding
• extrapolating
• interpolating
• predicting

Comparing
• contrasting
• mapping
• matching

Explaining
• constructing models
Executing
• carrying out

Implementing
• using
Differentiating
• discriminating
• distinguishing
• focusing
• selecting

Organizing
• finding coherence
• integrating
• outlining
• parsing
• structuring

Attributing
• deconstructing
Checking
• coordinating
• detecting
• monitoring
• testing

Critiquing
• judging
• assessing
Generating
• hypothesizing

Planning
• designing

Producing
• constructing